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Your LIFE: Make no misteak.. this is a fine spot; MARK MAHAFFY HAS NO BEEF WITH BELFAST, BUT WHEN IT COMES TO COOKING THERE'S NO PLACE LIKE HOME.

Byline: MARK MAHAFFY

WORKING in Belfast but living in mid-Ulster has perhaps tainted my opinion when it comes to dining out.

While we do dine occasionally in the County Armagh vicinity, for that special occasion, it's normally a case of hopping into the car and heading back to the bright lights to revisit a favourite Belfast eating haunt.

Recently my wife and I broke with that habit when we headed in the opposite direction towards Portadown - Carleton Street, to be precise.

There we spent the evening at Tasu, a recently opened restaurant just a short walk from the town centre.

Knowing nothing about Tasu, it was a bit of a gamble as baby-sitters on a Saturday night don't come cheap or often!

One of the benefits of the location is on-street parking at night time as you can literally park right outside the restaurant.

First impressions were positive and assuring. As we were shown to our pre-booked seats, the atmosphere and ambience of the room, helped no doubt by the fact that every seat in the house was filled, were both good omens before we lifted a fork.

While the menu was not extensive, it was nonetheless impressive by virtue of its variety. I think it could probably best be described as 'contemporary traditional', if that doesn't smack too much of a contradiction.

From a choice of five starters, I chose deep fried salt and pepper squid with chilli dipping sauce while my better half opted for the smoked chicken Caesar salad with croutons and cos.

I've had similar type dishes in other restaurants where the actual taste and texture of the squid is hidden through a heavy combination of batter and sauces. This one though got the balance spot on.

Sampling the chicken Caesar salad was a chicken Caesar salad connoisseur who has tasted more chicken Caesar salads than you can throw a spatula at. Well able to deliver a verdict on the starter, I'm reliably informed that it stacked up against the very best of the rest.

And then on to the main course where we both opted for fillet steak despite being sorely tempted by an Indian lamb madras dish.

Main course prices started from pounds 8.95 for a cheese and onion tart with pistachio pastry and chilli coleslaw up to pounds 18.50 for a whopping 16oz steak.

The 10oz prime Irish fillet steak came with creamy peppercorn sauce and tobacco onions. We accompanied it with a side bowl of homemade chips (for my wife) and a mixed leaf salad (for me - I don't think she will ever see this).

As with many others, I am a big fan of genuine Irish fillet steak and when it is cooked (in my case, well-done) there are few greater eating pleasures in life. No cooking method, no matter how good, can compensate for the quality or treatment of the meat, before it hits an oven or pan.

Both our steaks were perfectly cooked - well done and not well frazzled. The sauce and tobacco onions were a good mix and the homemade chips and salad complemented the steak well.

It was a good choice, but maybe next time around I might attempt the 16oz prime Irish T-bone steak with saute onions, mushrooms and Bushmills whiskey sauce.

Temptation got the better of us when it came to dessert, and we both ordered cheesecake (Malteser cheesecake to be precise) to round off the meal.

Prices were reasonable and compare favourably to similar fare in local restaurants or hotels. Our starters came to a total of pounds 10.90 and main courses with side dishes to pounds 38combined. Desserts totalled pounds 7.90.

Presently the restaurant is unlicensed but hope soon to be granted one soon. In the meantime, if wine is your preferred tipple, you will need to bring your own with you.

So without drinks, the total bill came to pounds 56.80. Reading Tasu's literature their midweek (Monday to Wednesday) menu certainly appeared to be great value. For a starter or dessert plus main course and tea or coffee the cost is just pounds 25 per couple.

For a relatively young restaurant in a difficult market, Tasu shows great maturity in its menu and service. It's not pretentious in any way, yet the food is, in my opinion, of a very high standard.

A well priced menu, it represents real competition pound for pound amongst the best the County Armagh area has to offer.

Not sure what the catchment area is for Tasu, but if you're within comfortable driving distance, why not like ourselves, give Belfast a break!

CAPTION(S):

TASTY: The Tasu interior
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jan 27, 2007
Words:776
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